James Livingston: It's Black Friday: Spend for Your Soul

Roundup: Historians' Take

James Livingston is a professor of history at Rutgers University and the author, most recently, of "Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is good for the Economy, the Environment and Your Soul."

We like to think that the holidays bring out the best in us, that they are like the feasts and festivals of our archaic past, when we celebrated a successful hunt or a bountiful harvest. So why do we treat Black Friday — when the season to be jolly officially commences with ritualized ferocity — as the occasion for serious lamentations about the "commercialization of Christmas" and the moral emptiness of the mall? You already know the answer: because consumerism is bad for us.

But that's not really the case. Our demonization of consumer culture and admiration for the principle of "saving for a rainy day" are self-defeating, particularly in an economic downturn.

To renew growth and to address the moral possibilities of our time, we need to save less, spend more and get used to the fact that consumer culture is better for our souls than the parsimonious alternatives. And what better time to embrace that realization than Black Friday?

The real economic problem of our time is a global savings glut. We suffer from capital surplus, not scarcity. Don't take my word for it, ask Alan Greenspan, Martin Wolf, Ben Bernanke or the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The solution can't be more tax cuts for corporations and austerity for everybody else. The obvious, practical solution to our economic problem is instead a redistribution of income that validates more consumer spending, not bigger bonuses on Wall Street....

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